I found a friend in the swing man

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By W.B. Evans

– Editor’s note: Mr. Evans is taking a well-deserved break this week. Due to reader response, we are reprinting this Remember When column, which was originally published in the July 26, 2009, edition of The Lancaster News. It is especially timely with the Lancaster County Fair opening Tuesday.


They called it a carnival. For me, it was more or less a county fair wannabe.

This small outfit popped into town during the lull of my summer vacation.

It only had about three or four rides and all of them were old, but it was something to do.

Rides aren’t everything, I guess.

There was a midway sideshow featuring the dog-faced man, a fat woman and a fella who could swallow swords.

Why, they even had what one of the fellas called a “hootchy-kootchy show.”

I didn’t know what the hootchy-kootchy was, but a lot of the men, young and old alike, sure did and wanted to see it.

The line was long and they were trying to blend in. You know, some of those hootchy-kootchy boys must’ve been looking for their friends. They kept looking around awful hard before going inside the tent.

Now, this carnival was no different than the others that came here, but it was for me. I may have been at the “trusting age,” but Mama didn’t mince words.

She said carnivals had their share of shady folks who would try to draw you in.

“You stay away from them,” she warned.

They had something else that drew you in, too. I could smell the food from blocks away, and as soon as I got a whiff of it, I was starving.

A hot dog, French fries and a soft drink, along with a cone of cotton candy, sure hit the spot. The thought of whether a health inspector had been by never entered my mind.

Anything that smells that good has gotta be good.

Now, I was at the age where those swings, whirling out wide in the air, almost horizontal, didn’t scare me one bit.

The mechanical swings were so much fun that I was doing my best to wear them out by buying every ticket I could.

I wasn’t worried about being slung off into the wide blue yonder and across the road into Jacob’s Hollow onto a patch of nearby sunflowers.

Besides, the swing man, sorta looked like somebody’s grandpa.

An older fella, he had a constant smile on his face, he  enjoyed watching us fly through the air, screaming at the top of our lungs.

I rode the swings several times, then walked around the midway, before returning for another glide in the summer air.

After a while, I was the only swinger there. Given that, I expected the swing man to shut down until more riders showed up.

Sure enough, the ride was slowing down and my glide got lower and lower until I was barely moving.

The man helped me unfasten the chain, which was my safety belt.

“Young fella, you seem to enjoy this ride as much as I do,” he said.

That broke the ice. Climbing down from the wooden slat I was seated on, we started talking.

I asked him where he was from.

“Tampa, Florida,” he said.

Now that was an unexpected answer, I thought.

“Why, I got two uncles who live in Tampa,” I said.

He said he used to live in Pennsylvania. After retiring from the railroad he moved to Florida to enjoy the mild winters.

“The guy who lived next door to me was an old circus worker, who traveled the ‘Southern Circuit,’ ” the swing man said. “He got sick and I bought this ride from him. It’s something to do and I enjoy watching the people.”

Now, if you expected some kind of fairy tale ending to this, I’m sorry.

I returned to the fairgrounds again with the sole intention of talking to my new friend. But it was no use.

The swing man was gone, swings and all. I never got the chance to say goodbye, but I never forgot him.

The next time I saw my uncles, I asked them if they knew the swing man. And of course, they didn’t.

I guess both us learned something from our brief encounter at a small carnival that was passing through town.

The swing man found a friend who didn’t judge him because he was a carny.

I learned that regardless of the circumstances, there are plenty of good people out there, even at county fair wannabees.